In brie-lliant news which comes just in time for the holidays, cheese is now officially good for you, according to actual science.
The dairy delight is usually thought of as more of an indulgence than a food consumed for its health benefits, but a new review of research suggests it’s really not that bad.
Now if that isn’t an excuse to bulk up your Christmas cheeseboard then I don’t know what is.
Cheese is similar to all dairy products in that it contains high levels of saturated fat, which traditionally have been thought of as a big no-no. They’ve been linked with high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and heart disease.
That in itself is up for debate, but cheese has many beneficial properties including calcium and protein. Cheese is also a probiotic, which is great for the gut and digestion – something which research is indicating is increasingly important for good health.
The authors of the latest study, which was published in the European Journal of Nutrition, conducted a massive study from research as far as China and the Netherlands and combined the data.
The studies were spread across 15 separate observational projects and included more than 200,000 people. The studies were even longitudinal, and eight of the 10 tracked people for at least a decade.
This makes the findings really robust, despite being contrary to popular opinion and what people generally think about cheese consumption.
The study found that people who consumed high levels of cheese had 14 per cent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease and were 10 per cent less likely to have a stroke than those who rarely or never ate cheese.
Obviously, there’s a limit to this, and eating tonnes of the good stuff is eventually going to start having a negative effect.
The people who had the lowest risk of heart disease, according to the study, are those who eat around 40 grams every day, which is about the size of a matchbook.
On average, Americans eat around 42.5 grams every day.
Dr. Allan Stewart, director of aortic surgery at Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medica Center, told TIME that people need to be cautious of the data, as it is self-reported, meaning their actual consumption of cheese might have differed.
He also pointed out that the reasons for the decline in heart disease risk might be correlative rather than causative – people who eat cheese might be healthier overall, or have better medicine.
He doesn’t rule out the finding, however, saying that there are plenty of beneficial qualities to cheese which might offset the negative impact of the fat content.
He said cheese contains CLA, an unsaturated fatty acid which increases the amount of good cholesterol and decreases the amount of bad cholesterol.
There is some evidence that cheese – as a substitute for milk, for example – may actually have a protective effect on the heart.
No one’s saying you should definitely go out and eat 40 grams of cheese a day. But on the upside, a bit of cheese on a cracker doesn’t sound unreasonable…
We’re always searching for ways to minimise heart disease and reduce atherosclerosis. It’s promising to find that something that actually tastes good – and pairs well with a nice glass of red wine – may offer some protection, as well.
It’s not entirely clear whether some cheeses are better than others for these health benefits, but it’s certainly great news that cheese isn’t just a luxury which is bad four our health.
So do what Charlie Kelly would do, and eat an average of 40 grams of the good stuff a day.